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The Professor, a novel by Charlotte Bronte


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_ I SERVED Edward as his second clerk faithfully, punctually,
diligently. What was given me to do I had the power and the
determination to do well. Mr. Crimsworth watched sharply for
defects, but found none; he set Timothy Steighton, his favourite
and head man, to watch also. Tim was baffled; I was as exact as
himself, and quicker. Mr. Crimsworth made inquiries as to how I
lived, whether I got into debt--no, my accounts with my landlady
were always straight. I had hired small lodgings, which I
contrived to pay for out of a slender fund--the accumulated
savings of my Eton pocket-money; for as it had ever been
abhorrent to my nature to ask pecuniary assistance, I had early
acquired habits of self-denying economy; husbanding my monthly
allowance with anxious care, in order to obviate the danger of
being forced, in some moment of future exigency, to beg
additional aid. I remember many called me miser at the time, and
I used to couple the reproach with this consolation--better to be
misunderstood now than repulsed hereafter. At this day I had my
reward; I had had it before, when on parting with my irritated
uncles one of them threw down on the table before me a 5l. note,
which I was able to leave there, saying that my travelling
expenses were already provided for. Mr. Crimsworth employed Tim
to find out whether my landlady had any complaint to make on the
score of my morals; she answered that she believed I was a very
religious man, and asked Tim, in her turn, if he thought I had
any intention of going into the Church some day; for, she said,
she had had young curates to lodge in her house who were nothing
equal to me for steadiness and quietness. Tim was "a religious
man" himself; indeed, he was "a joined Methodist," which did not
(be it understood) prevent him from being at the same time an
engrained rascal, and he came away much posed at hearing this
account of my piety. Having imparted it to Mr. Crimsworth, that
gentleman, who himself frequented no place of worship, and owned
no God but Mammon, turned the information into a weapon of attack
against the equability of my temper. He commenced a series of
covert sneers, of which I did not at first perceive the drift,
till my landlady happened to relate the conversation she had had
with Mr. Steighton; this enlightened me; afterwards I came to the
counting-house prepared, and managed to receive the millowner's
blasphemous sarcasms, when next levelled at me, on a buckler of
impenetrable indifference. Ere long he tired of wasting his
ammunition on a statue, but he did not throw away the shafts--he
only kept them quiet in his quiver.

Once during my clerkship I had an invitation to Crimsworth Hall;
it was on the occasion of a large party given in honour of the
master's birthday; he had always been accustomed to invite his
clerks on similar anniversaries, and could not well pass me over;
I was, however, kept strictly in the background. Mrs.
Crimsworth, elegantly dressed in satin and lace, blooming in
youth and health, vouchsafed me no more notice than was expressed
by a distant move; Crimsworth, of course, never spoke to me; I
was introduced to none of the band of young ladies, who,
enveloped in silvery clouds of white gauze and muslin, sat in
array against me on the opposite side of a long and large room;
in fact, I was fairly isolated, and could but contemplate the
shining ones from affar, and when weary of such a dazzling scene,
turn for a change to the consideration of the carpet pattern.
Mr. Crimsworth, standing on the rug, his elbow supported by the
marble mantelpiece, and about him a group of very pretty girls,
with whom he conversed gaily--Mr. Crimsworth, thus placed,
glanced at me; I looked weary, solitary, kept down like some
desolate tutor or governess; he was satisfied.

Dancing began; I should have liked well enough to be introduced
to some pleasing and intelligent girl, and to have freedom and
opportunity to show that I could both feel and communicate the
pleasure of social intercourse--that I was not, in short, a
block, or a piece of furniture, but an acting, thinking, sentient
man. Many smiling faces and graceful figures glided past me, but
the smiles were lavished on other eyes, the figures sustained by
other hands than mine. I turned away tantalized, left the
dancers, and wandered into the oak-panelled dining-room. No fibre
of sympathy united me to any living thing in this house; I looked
for and found my mother's picture. I took a wax taper from a
stand, and held it up. I gazed long, earnestly; my heart grew to
the image. My mother, I perceived, had bequeathed to me much of
her features and countenance--her forehead, her eyes, her
complexion. No regular beauty pleases egotistical human beings
so much as a softened and refined likeness of themselves; for
this reason, fathers regard with complacency the lineaments of
their daughters' faces, where frequently their own similitude is
found flatteringly associated with softness of hue and delicacy
of outline. I was just wondering how that picture, to me so
interesting, would strike an impartial spectator, when a voice
close behind me pronounced the words--

"Humph! there's some sense in that face."

I turned; at my elbow stood a tall man, young, though probably
five or six years older than I--in other respects of an
appearance the opposite to common place; though just now, as I am
not disposed to paint his portrait in detail, the reader must be
content with the silhouette I have just thrown off; it was all I
myself saw of him for the moment: I did not investigate the
colour of his eyebrows, nor of his eyes either; I saw his
stature, and the outline of his shape; I saw, too, his
fastidious-looking RETROUSSE nose; these observations, few in
number, and general in character (the last excepted), sufficed,
for they enabled me to recognize him.

"Good evening, Mr. Hunsden," muttered I with a bow, and then,
like a shy noodle as I was, I began moving away--and why?
Simply because Mr. Hunsden was a manufacturer and a millowner,
and I was only a clerk, and my instinct propelled me from my
superior. I had frequently seen Hunsden in Bigben Close, where
he came almost weekly to transact business with Mr. Crimsworth,
but I had never spoken to him, nor he to me, and I owed him a
sort of involuntary grudge, because he had more than once been
the tacit witness of insults offered by Edward to me. I had the
conviction that he could only regard me as a poor-spirited slave,
wherefore I now went about to shun his presence and eschew his

"Where are you going?" asked he, as I edged off sideways. I had
already noticed that Mr. Hunsden indulged in abrupt forms of
speech, and I perversely said to myself--

"He thinks he may speak as he likes to a poor clerk; but my mood
is not, perhaps, so supple as he deems it, and his rough freedom
pleases me not at all."

I made some slight reply, rather indifferent than courteous, and
continued to move away. He coolly planted himself in my path.

"Stay here awhile," said he: "it is so hot in the dancing-room;
besides, you don't dance; you have not had a partner to-night."

He was right, and as he spoke neither his look, tone, nor manner
displeased me; my AMOUR-PROPRE was propitiated; he had not
addressed me out of condescension, but because, having repaired
to the cool dining-room for refreshment, he now wanted some one
to talk to, by way of temporary amusement. I hate to be
condescended to, but I like well enough to oblige; I stayed.

"That is a good picture," he continued, recurring to the

"Do you consider the face pretty?" I asked.

"Pretty! no--how can it be pretty, with sunk eyes and hollow
cheeks? but it is peculiar; it seems to think. You could have a
talk with that woman, if she were alive, on other subjects than
dress, visiting, and compliments."

I agreed with him, but did not say so. He went on.

"Not that I admire a head of that sort; it wants character and
force; there's too much of the sen-si-tive (so he articulated it,
curling his lip at the same time) in that mouth; besides, there
is Aristocrat written on the brow and defined in the figure; I
hate your aristocrats."

"You think, then, Mr. Hunsden, that patrician descent may be read
in a distinctive cast of form and features?"

"Patrician descent be hanged! Who doubts that your lordlings may
have their 'distinctive cast of form and features' as much as we
----shire tradesmen have ours? But which is the best? Not theirs
assuredly. As to their women, it is a little different: they
cultivate beauty from childhood upwards, and may by care and
training attain to a certain degree of excellence in that point,
just like the oriental odalisques. Yet even this superiority is
doubtful. Compare the figure in that frame with Mrs. Edward
Crimsworth--which is the finer animal?"

I replied quietly: "Compare yourself and Mr. Edward Crimsworth,
Mr Hunsden."

"Oh, Crimsworth is better filled up than I am, I know besides he
has a straight nose, arched eyebrows, and all that; but these
advantages--if they are advantages--he did not inherit from his
mother, the patrician, but from his father, old Crimsworth, who,
MY father says, was as veritable a ----shire blue-dyer as ever
put indigo in a vat yet withal the handsomest man in the three
Ridings. It is you, William, who are the aristocrat of your
family, and you are not as fine a fellow as your plebeian brother
by long chalk."

There was something in Mr. Hunsden's point-blank mode of speech
which rather pleased me than otherwise because it set me at my
ease. I continued the conversation with a degree of interest.

"How do you happen to know that I am Mr. Crimsworth's brother? I
thought you and everybody else looked upon me only in the light
of a poor clerk."

"Well, and so we do; and what are you but a poor clerk? You do
Crimsworth's work, and he gives you wages--shabby wages they are,

I was silent. Hunsden's language now bordered on the
impertinent, still his manner did not offend me in the least--it
only piqued my curiosity; I wanted him to go on, which he did in
a little while.

"This world is an absurd one," said he.

"Why so, Mr. Hunsden?"

I wonder you should ask: you are yourself a strong proof of the
absurdity I allude to."

I was determined he should explain himself of his own accord,
without my pressing him so to do--so I resumed my silence.

"Is it your intention to become a tradesman?" he inquired

"It was my serious intention three months ago."

"Humph! the more fool you--you look like a tradesman! What a
practical business-like face you have!"

"My face is as the Lord made it, Mr. Hunsden."

"The Lord never made either year face or head for X---- What good
can your bumps of ideality, comparison, self-esteem,
conscientiousness, do you here? But if you like Bigben Close,
stay there; it's your own affair, not mine."

"Perhaps I have no choice."

"Well, I care nought about it--it will make little difference to
me what you do or where you go; but I'm cool now--I want to dance
again; and I see such a fine girl sitting in the corner of the
sofa there by her mamma; see if I don't get her for a partner in
a jiffy! There's Waddy--Sam Waddy making up to her; won't I cut
him out?"

And Mr. Hunsden strode away. I watched him through the open
folding-doors; he outstripped Waddy, applied for the hand of the
fine girl, and led her off triumphant. She was a tall,
well-made, full-formed, dashingly-dressed young woman, much in
the style of Mrs. E. Crimsworth; Hunsden whirled her through the
waltz with spirit; he kept at her side during the remainder of
the evening, and I read in her animated and gratified countenance
that he succeeded in making himself perfectly agreeable. The
mamma too (a stout person in a turban--Mrs. Lupton by name)
looked well pleased; prophetic visions probably flattered her
inward eye. The Hunsdens were of an old stem; and scornful as
Yorke (such was my late interlocutor's name) professed to be of
the advantages of birth, in his secret heart he well knew and
fully appreciated the distinction his ancient, if not high
lineage conferred on him in a mushroom-place like X----,
concerning whose inhabitants it was proverbially said, that not
one in a thousand knew his own grandfather. Moreover the
Hunsdens, once rich, were still independent; and report affirmed
that Yorke bade fair, by his success in business, to restore to
pristine prosperity the partially decayed fortunes of his house.
These circumstances considered, Mrs. Lupton's broad face might
well wear a smile of complacency as she contemplated the heir of
Hunsden Wood occupied in paying assiduous court to her darling
Sarah Martha. I, however, whose observations being less anxious,
were likely to be more accurate, soon saw that the grounds for
maternal self-congratulation were slight indeed; the gentleman
appeared to me much more desirous of making, than susceptible of
receiving an impression. I know not what it was in Mr. Hunsden
that, as I watched him (I had nothing better to do), suggested to
me, every now and then, the idea of a foreigner. In form and
features he might be pronounced English, though even there one
caught a dash of something Gallic; but he had no English shyness:
he had learnt somewhere, somehow, the art of setting himself
quite at his ease, and of allowing no insular timidity to
intervene as a barrier between him and his convenience or
pleasure. Refinement he did not affect, yet vulgar he could not
be called; he was not odd--no quiz--yet he resembled no one else
I had ever seen before; his general bearing intimated complete,
sovereign satisfaction with himself; yet, at times, an
indescribable shade passed like an eclipse over his countenance,
and seemed to me like the sign of a sudden and strong inward
doubt of himself, his words and actions-an energetic discontent
at his life or his social position, his future prospects or his
mental attainments--I know not which; perhaps after all it might
only be a bilious caprice. _

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Read previous: CHAPTER II

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